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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats lose one in Houston; Astros 6-1 in opener

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ series opening loss to the Astros...

Washington’s Nationals returned to Houston’s Minute Maid Park last night, for the first time since they beat the Astros in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, winning it all and bringing a World Series championship to D.C. for the first time since 1924.

“Including the 2019 Postseason - obviously,” the club noted somewhat cheekily in pregame notes for the series opener, “the Nationals have won five straight games and 12 of their last 13 games in Houston since the start of the 2012 season.”

Of course things are a lot different for the Nationals in 2023, with just their manager Davey Martinez and starter for the first of three with the Astros, Patrick Corbin, around right now, in terms of players who were part of the ‘19 roster and are currently active on their 26-man roster. Corbin’s return coincided with his latest turn in the 2023 rotation.

2019 World Series Game 7 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It was the now-33-year-old lefty’s first outing in Houston since he tossed three scoreless in the decisive game in ‘19, holding the Astros to two hits in a 44-pitch effort, in relief, for the Nationals.

“Today we were thinking [Corbin] would get one inning,” Martinez said in his post-game presser after the Game 7 win in 2019.

“He went out for one inning, we asked him if he could go out another inning, he said, ‘Yeah.’ Asked him again if he could go out for a third inning, he says, ‘Whatever you need.’

“After the third inning I said, ‘I think we got you covered. Great job.’”

Martinez’s recollection of the back and forth with Corbin back in 2019 didn’t change much when he recounted it again before last night’s game.

“‘Can you go back out?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Can you go back out?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Can you go back out?’ ‘Nope.’

“‘Okay.’ That was awesome,” he said.

Returning to the stadium where it all happened back in October of ‘19, meant something to the Nats’ skipper.

“It brings out good memories,” he said before last night’s game.

“I was sitting around with some of the guys that were here in ’19. There’s not many of us left. But we were reminiscing a little bit. It was fun.”

Then it was back to business for the manager, who got back on brand (first established in 2019).

“But we got to go 1-0 today, right, but you put that aside and they’re playing pretty good, so we just got to go out there and try to go 1-0 today.”

Corbin hasn’t been the same pitcher since his run in 2019, but he has made significant strides this season, after three tough years in Washington’s rotation, so Martinez had a bunch of positive things to share before the southpaw faced the Astros again.

“He’s been really good this year, he really has. He’s attacking the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters, his slider has been a lot better. Keeping the ball down, I always go back to him throwing the ball down, using both sides of the plate, and using his changeup a lot more this year than he has, and that’s been a part of his plan, trying to utilize that changeup a little bit more, but keeping the ball down.”

The 2-1 changeup he threw to Mauricio Dubón in the fifth inning on Tuesday night, wasn’t down enough, and the shortstop hit it 366 feet to left for a solo home run, 1-0 Astros, and then Corbin left a 1-1 fastball up inside to Kyle Tucker later in the inning and Tucker hit it 339 ft. to right field for the second home run of the inning and a 2-0 lead in what ended up a 6-1 win for the home team.

The loss was the Nationals’ first in Houston since 2017, but returning to the scene of 2019’s big win did move Martinez in the end.

“It was pretty cool going back out there, and sitting in the same chair in Game 7,” he said.

“But it’s always fun coming here. The fans are great. It’s loud. It’s electric. Overall, other than the hitting portion and not driving in runs, I thought we played pretty well.”

“To win a world championship is very hard in this league,” Corbin said after the game, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“Hopefully the guys in this clubhouse have a chance to experience that.”